The sun shines on Building B, FSI’s newest addition, where classrooms are designed to meet the modern needs of foreign affairs professionals. Photo courtesy of FSI
By Mari Lentini and Lynette Evans-Tiernan
“We want both the Foreign and Civil Service to have more opportunities for professional development throughout [their] careers,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the Department of State workforce in his October 2021 speech on the Modernization of American Democracy. “Chances for State Department professionals to learn and grow should and will be ongoing.”
Blinken’s Modernization Agenda, which aims to equip the Department to better advance U.S. interests in an era of rapid change, prioritizes training and professional development.
In April, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) launched the Department’s first-ever core curriculum for all mid-career Civil Service and Foreign Service personnel. The curriculum is designed to guide employees’ training decisions over their entire mid-career span (GS and GG-12/13/14, FP-05 office management specialists, and FP and FO-04/03/02 in other specialties and cones). It is a series of courses, curated and highly recommended by subject matter experts from FSI and GTM, designed to address knowledge gaps among mid-career employees. The curriculum includes some existing mandatory leadership and management training designed to bolster core diplomatic tradecraft skills. The courses reinforce an array of critical skills, ranging from strategic thinking and planning, supervisory leadership, congressional relations, negotiation, communication skills, and working in the interagency.
The core curriculum builds on the notion of career-long learning introduced by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s set of mandatory leadership courses for the entire workforce more than 20 years ago. Designed as a learning framework for the Department’s mid-career Civil and Foreign Service professionals, the core curriculum addresses gaps in workforce capacity identified in multiple external reports as well as a recent training needs assessment conducted by FSI. The curriculum is centered on the Department’s belief that every employee plays a significant role in advancing mission strategic goals and stands to benefit from training that builds key skills needed for ongoing professional success. It also aims to equip the workforce with the skills necessary to better serve the American people.
“Throughout my 25 years in the Department, I’ve regularly conducted negotiations with internal and external stakeholders, but prior to joining the team at FSI, I had no idea that we offer negotiations training and definitely would have benefitted from it,” said FSI Director Joan Polaschik. “That’s exactly what the core curriculum is trying to do—provide all Department professionals with opportunities to boost their skills and careers.”
Core curriculum courses are offered multiple times throughout the year and five have virtual or distance learning options to help reach employees when and where they need it. Department employees are encouraged to register as soon as possible for courses that they wish to participate in. Based on demand, FSI will look to increase offerings in 2024. There is no specific sequence for taking the courses and the curriculum is designed to be completed over the span of an employee’s mid-career years (a span of approximately 10 years).
“The idea is to make the courses as accessible as possible, because diplomacy is a team sport,” added Polaschik.
To continue building a culture of career-long learning in the Department, it is important for supervisors to maintain an open dialogue with members of their teams to make learning, including core curriculum courses, part of their career development planning. Supervisors are managing large workloads, often against the backdrop of staffing gaps, and it can be difficult to find time or funding for training. The Department will roll out additional tools to help employees and supervisors plan for and incorporate training into their work plans.
A recommended core curriculum is just the first step in building a Department-wide culture of learning. In partnership with GTM, FSI continues to think through how to incentivize training and professional development and expand opportunities.
The core curriculum will increase access to learning to ensure that members of the U.S. foreign affairs community have the fundamental skills they need to advance the Department’s foreign policy goals and succeed in their careers. The Department’s best resource is its talented workforce, which is why FSI is committed to learning and investing in Department employees and their professional growth.
Those interested in the core curriculum, and in registering for available courses, can visit FSI’s Student Information System (internal link). Users must be logged in to view the course information.
Mari Lentini is the program assistant and Lynette Evans-Tiernan is the acting director of the Foreign Service Institute’s Strategic Communications and Partnerships Unit.